Also known as Bloody Bird. Also Known as Deliria. Also known as Aquarius. Also known as the one with the giant owl chasing theatricals with a chainsaw. One of the last original slasher movies, Shameless Films present Michele Soavi’s 1987 Italian classic in a fresh 4k restoration on blu-ray as a festive treat for those who love stylish horror; light on violence, clever in conceit and startling in execution, it’s every bit as much of a hoot as the poster suggests. Slasher movies are often derided as the lowest common denominator of mainstream cinema, but Soavi elevates the material to something rather special with his technical bravura.
Credibility isn’t an issue when you have a power-tool-wielding giant-owl hacking his way through a group of actors locked into a theatre, so it’s best just to go with the flow. David Brandon plays Peter, who is directing a play about a fictional killer known as The Night Owl. But a real serial killer escapes from a nearby institution and kills one of Peter’s crew, and the police are summoned. While two cops sit oblivious in their car outside, Peter decides to incorporate the murder into his show’s new direction, but the killer dons the Night Owl costume and starts taking his bloody revenge…
From the fake-out opening onwards, Soavi has plenty of tricks up his sleeve; the owl costume is ingeniously used, with one of the actors donning a spare costume, with the result being that the audience are never sure if we’re looking at the real killer or his understudy. The escape from the institution is artfully done in roughly five seconds of screen time, and as the set-pieces pile up, Soavi saves the best for last with a dynamic twenty minute climax that really deserves the accolade of Hitchcock-ian; our heroine Alicia (Barbara Cupisti) has to find the key to the theatre door, but it’s lodged between two floor-boards on the stage where the killer is currently building a tableau of corpses. Most slashers fizzle out, but such great visuals help Stagefright rise to heights of operatic tension.
With vibrant colours, cool effects and a cavernous theatre as a setting, Stagefright shows just how dramatic a simple horror idea can be; while the acting is passable and the dialogue has some wit, it’s the slickness of the whole package that makes Stagefright worth seeking out for genre fans. Soavi went on to even better things with his all-time classic Dellamorte Dellamorte in 1994, but the talent was there from the get-go, and a blu-ray of Stagefright is well worth blowing your festive vouchers on.
Shameless Films presents Stagefright on Blu-ray and digital on demand from 27 December 2021